By Shanta Roy
NEW YORK (IDN) – As the United Nations commemorated its annual International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons September 26, Secretary-General António Guterres underlined two political realities facing the world community.
Firstly, not only has progress on nuclear disarmament come to a halt, but “it is going in reverse,” he warned. Secondly, relations between nuclear-armed States are mired in mistrust while dangerous rhetoric about the utility of nuclear weapons is on the rise, he noted.
“A qualitative nuclear arms race is underway,” cautioned Guterres, and “the painstakingly constructed arms control regime is fraying,” he declared, addressing a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament during the opening of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.
But anti-nuclear activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) expressed their concerns—and were alarmed – at recent developments, including the halting progress on nuclear disarmament and rising right-wing rhetoric and war mongering among nuclear powers such as the U.S. and UK, and India and Pakistan.
As world leaders warned about the dangers of a nuclear war during the one-day meeting, Joseph Gerson, President, Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, told IDN the sad, ugly and dangerous truth is that while diplomats talk at the UN, all of the nuclear weapons states are upgrading their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems in their preparations to inflict nuclear apocalypse.
“And with their actions, they undermine the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and encourage proliferation,” he said.“There is a reason that the atomic scientists have warned that human survival stands at two minutes to midnight.”
He said many have observed the parallels between the current era and the years of sleep-walking into World War I.
“This time, however, the world’s great powers are armed with genocidal and potentially omnicidal nuclear and cyber weaponry,” noted Gerson, who is Disarmament Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee and Vice-President, International Peace Bureau.
Dr M. V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA) at the University of British Columbia, told IDN: “I think it is useful and important for the Secretary-General to be hosting this event and making this appeal”.
To understand its significance, he pointed out, one has to start with the understanding that he is just reproducing the sentiments and ideas expressed by many, many people around the world and lots of countries.
“It is their combined voice that is coming through the Secretary-General’s call, and it is their actions and the pressure they manage to bring to bear that will eventually lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons,” he added.
“I also think it worth noting that the Secretary-General states clearly, almost in an offhand way, that ‘the only real way to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons’”.
This is a very important observation, for it makes it clear that the current status quo, or any arrangement where some countries have nuclear weapons and others don’t, will not be sustainable, declared Dr Ramana.
Dr Rebecca Johnson, nuclear analyst, who serves on the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) and International Steering Group (ISG) of the 2017 Nobel Peace laureate International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IDN: “I welcome UN Secretary-General Guterres’s brief statement on nuclear weapons elimination, but it was astonishing to hear him pay tribute to “leadership of the nuclear weapon states” that possess the largest arsenals.
Yes, the U.S. and Russia reduced the huge arsenals they had amassed in the Cold War, she said, but they need to be held accountable for undermining existing disarmament treaties and constantly upgrading their military forces and nuclear arsenals.
“In the past couple of years, the only leadership we’ve seen is Trump and Putin trashing arms control and boycotting the UN mandated multilateral negotiations that led to the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty,” said Dr Johnson.
“As children come out on the streets to beg for leadership to tackle the climate emergency,” she argued, “our world faces a resurgence of nuclear threats because of the policies of the nine nuclear armed governments and their allies and colluders.”
These linked existential threats require collectively-effective humanitarian-led security action from everyone.
Nuclear-armed leaders are far too reliant on their weapons technologies and military threats. They are stuck with 20th century defence thinking when the world needs 21st century leadership to pursue climate action and humanitarian disarmament.
“How about paying tribute to the governments that added their signatures and ratifications to the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty this week,?” she asked. [12 States joined the Nuclear Ban Treaty on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.]
Elaborating further, Gerson told IDN: “We need actions, not words designed to deflect responsibility. Sweet and deflecting rhetoric at the UN reinforces the reckless and extraordinarily dangerous practice of nuclear bluff and blackmail, most immediately in the Pakistani-Indian confrontation over Kashmir, in the Trump Administration’s smashing of the world’s nuclear arms control architecture, and the growing U.S.-Russian-Chinese great power tensions”.
He said three actions can help to stanch the growing nuclear dangers: international action to facilitate resolution of the decades-old Kashmir crisis; one or more of the nuclear umbrella states signing and ratifying the Treaty for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which would fundamentally disrupt the nuclear disorder, and – as in the 1980s – regeneration of massive popular demands for nuclear disarmament, this time in partnership with climate and justice movements.
“We can hope that the TPNW will come into force, but it will not seriously impact the nuclear nine unless its states parties find the courage to confront, isolate and sanction the nuclear powers. Power yields nothing without resistance,” declared Gerson.
Speaking at the high-level meeting, the newly-elected President of the UN General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande told delegates: “As we approach the Seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, we recall that our organisation was born of a time of devastation and distrust.”
“The tragedy of the first-ever use of nuclear weapons makes it crucial that we do everything to ensure that it was also the last time such weapons are deployed. ‘Never again’, must remain our main refrain,” he added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 September 2019]
Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres (fourth from left) and Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (left), President of the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly, attend the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas. 26 September 2019.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.